Stress in the Workplace

Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, recently described work-related stress as “a growing epidemic”. Why? Because according to statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) 1.4 million workers suffered from work-related ill health in 2017/18.

The HSE defines stress as ‘the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed on them’. Everyone at some point in their lifetime is likely to be exposed to personal stress as a result of relationships, changing jobs or moving house but work can also cause stress.

Reasons cited include excessive workloads, lack of managerial support, working long hours, bad relations with colleagues or lack of job satisfaction etc. Although a certain amount of pressure at work is often considered beneficial, excessive pressure can be harmful and if not addressed can lead to other problems such as poor productivity and absences.

The latest statistics from the HSE show 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury, an increase of nearly 3 million since 2016/17. Clearly it is in employers’ interests to address this issue and with April marking National Stress Awareness Month, what better time than to take action. Aside from any moral obligations to tackle this problem, employers do in fact have legal obligations.

The Law

 The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 imposes a legal duty on employers to ensure (as far as reasonably practicable) the health, safety and welfare of their employees whilst at work. That includes stress.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to carry out a workplace risk assessment and to control any risks that they identify. The HSE has a risk assessment template on their website which employers can use. A written record must be kept where employers have five or more employees. However, regardless of the number of employees, it is always best practice to keep written records.

Employers should also be aware that when an employee’s mental health amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010 they must consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’.

Mental Health Awareness week was last week.  Now is a good time to reflect on the measures that all employers can take to tackle the issue of mental health in the workplace.  ACAS suggest in their guidance: ‘Promoting positive mental health in the workplace’ that employers should consider implementing a Mental Health Policy setting out the measures they are taking and who is responsible within the organisation for enforcement of the policy. Not only does this help to show that as an employer you are taking the mental health of your staff seriously, it also allows managers and staff to refer to one document when requiring guidance so consistent approaches are taken. Of course as is the case with any policy, it is important that the terms of the policy are reflected in the employer’s practice.